NCAA Constantly Buckling to USC in Investigation 'Showdown'
I'm going with the NCAA on that one. It has been three years now since we knew that USC had become the classic college sports cheat. USC athletic director Mike Garrett figures Trojan football is too big and strong to be touchable. Heisman winners getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from shady characters hanging around. Basketball coaches getting into the mud, and maybe a slush fund, to recruit. That's just a start.
The NCAA has had the goods on USC for years now. And still ... nothing.
The NCAA could make an example of USC. Serious probation. No TV. No bowl games. Major recruiting limits. Whatever happened to the death penalty, anyway?
Or, the NCAA could do almost nothing, unwilling to hurt its golden goose. Just keep doing what you're doing, USC, and we'll take away a trophy or two and a handful of victories later.
That's what I think is happening. USC is about to start another season under Pete Carroll, the highest paid coach in college football. The coaches preseason good-ol-boy poll ranked USC No. 4. In the end, the Trojans will get to their eighth straight BCS bowl game. The dollars will flow. Everyone will get rich. And the crickets will keep chirping around the NCAAs investigation.
This is it, maybe the ultimate test of the NCAA, which calls its football players student-athletes. Now we'll see whether it is serious about being an organization of virtue or only of power and money.
It's your turn, NCAA, to prove doubters wrong. Why do I doubt?
Well, take this example from this week. The NCAA announced Thursday that it would no longer hold any NCAA championships in states that allow fans to bet on single games. Sounds good, right? Virtue? They want to keep gambling away from their games and their young players.
At the same time, the latest trend in the NCAA is for schools to sell ad space in their stadiums to casinos. When I asked the NCAA about this, a spokesperson responded via email with this:
"The NCAA does not interfere in the financial relationships/agreements of its institutions, as long as they do not violate NCAA legislation."
With the NCAA, the high ground disappears when money is involved.
"I think they're doing a great job," said Brian Watkins, attorney for Lloyd Lake.
Lake is the one who alleges that he gave Heisman winner Reggie Bush and his family nearly $300,000 in benefits when Bush played for USC. He has sued Bush in an attempt to recoup the money.
Watkins said that delays in the suit should be over in the next 60 to 90 days, and then he'll be able to start taking depositions from Carroll, from Bush and from Michael Michaels, another character involved who is said to have contributed $100,000 in cash to Bush and his family.
"The NCAA understands the appeal process is ending relatively soon," Watkins said. "And they don't have subpoena power. You can't just do something so severe as to give a school the death penalty or put on probation, without significant indisputable evidence."
The NCAA doesn't have to hold itself to the same standard of proof as our court system, though. And it has already reportedly talked to dozens of people. On top of that, Yahoo!, which broke the Bush story and has landed all sorts of details, has already done plenty of the dirty work for the NCAA.
"No, they don't need things beyond a reasonable doubt," Watkins said.
"And they do know the details.
"But Reggie Bush refused to cooperate. They haven't spoken to Reggie and they haven't spoken to Michael Michaels. They would need Michael Michaels' testimony for the slam dunk smoking gun they want."
Watkins said, for example, that Michaels claims to have put Bush up for a week in a suite in the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino in Vegas against NCAA rules. The NCAA, Watkins said, has the receipt. Now, it needs Michaels and Bush to explain.
Well, let's hope that Watkins is right about the NCAA, that it's just trying to build an airtight case.
But it's hard to believe they still need this testimony to come to definitive conclusions about the cesspool of USC athletics. Meanwhile, USC keeps doing things, keeps making money.
It came out last week that Carroll might have violated another NCAA rule by bringing in former pro coaches to help out. He said his compliance office approved.
It appears that Carroll can do whatever he wants at USC. The compliance office is not flying high on its reputation now. And Garrett's office is used most of all for collecting trophies.
What has USC done? It fired basketball coach Tim Floyd, after the fallout over the recruiting and alleged payment of basketball star O.J. Mayo.
But Floyd was a sacrificial lamb, to help protect football, USC's big money-maker.
Meanwhile, if everyone knows the details, then why hasn't USC stopped itself? Changed its culture?
Punished Carroll? Punished the football program?
The NCAA loves a good pre-empting self-punishment.
What Garrett has done is play a world-class game of chicken. That, and produce an embarrassing video on YouTube explaining, as if talking to kindergartners: "Believe me no one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than I do ... But there is a process. And that process is dictated by the NCAA rules and making sure that the investigation is conducted in a manner that would ensure that we get, indeed, to the truth.''
Indeed, we already have it. The question is what the NCAA will do with it. Garrett has handled things the way a former football star now wearing a suit would be expected, by daring NCAA officials to take action against a money-making powerhouse.
If they have the nerve.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org